Tougher Than Cancer
- Abdominal pain turns out to be pancreatic cancer
- Local oncologist works with MD Anderson specialists to form a treatment plan
- Chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor
- Hurricane Harvey interrupts radiation treatment for a week
- Tumor shrinks enough for a Whipple procedure
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on January 23, 2017.
I started having abdominal pain, but in mid-January it got so bad I had to go to the emergency department at Hardin Memorial Health, my local hospital. After testing, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Dr. Adam Lye told me that the cancer was “borderline resectable,” meaning that the tumor needed to shrink before I could have surgery to remove it.
We Form a Plan
Even before my diagnosis was confirmed, my husband, former U.S. Representative Ron Lewis, and our daughter began to look at treatment options. We learned that the statistics on pancreatic cancer are very dark and time was of the essence. Everything kept leading us back to MD Anderson in Houston, even though did not know much about the hospital. My family was committed to getting me to the best place for treatment. Within two weeks of my diagnosis we were in Texas.
There, we met with a team, including Dr. Matthew Katz, a surgeon. After some tests, the doctors formulated a plan. I would have chemotherapy with FOLFIRINOX to shrink the tumor, and followed by radiation. Best of all, I could have the chemotherapy at Hardin, back at home. The doctors at MD Anderson and Dr. Lye worked together to make treatment work for me.
I went back home and started my treatment in February. I had a number of side effects from the chemo. I lost my hair, lost my appetite, had nausea and mouth sores. Dr. Lye was able to adjust my medications, as well as prescribing other medications to combat the symptoms. Periodically my husband and I traveled to Houston for scans. At each visit we got good news—my tumor was shrinking, and there was no spread of cancer to my other organs.
After a visit to Houston in July, I was given a month’s rest from treatment. We went home, and then returned in August to start radiation. Our stay in Houston became very dramatic, because we were there during Hurricane Harvey! MD Anderson was closed and we had to wait out the storm in a nearby hotel, which was not flooded. I finally got to complete radiation and went back home in mid-September.
Finally, Whipple Surgery
I returned to Houston in October to see if I could have a Whipple procedure. I had the surgery on October 16 with Dr. Katz. Afterward, he told me that my tumor was 99 percent dead and my margins were clear!
I am so thankful for the support of my family, my friends, and my church throughout my treatment. Best of all I am now back to all my regular activities. I help my daughter at her shop, I garden, bake, and am constantly on the go. What a difference a year makes!
I have just been diagnosed.
What should I do?